Lamb Boats

It’s time to start thinking about the upcoming holiday season and party food. Whether you’re hosting a party or you’re a guest at a potluck, everyone needs a great party appetizer recipe at the ready.

Lamb Boats
Lamb Boats

This recipe is one of my favourite party appetizers. These little flavour bundles definitely stand out at a party thanks to their unique shape, and the spices blend well with a Tzatziki sauce on the side.


*makes approx. 60 boats


  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 oz. pine nuts (about ½ cup)
  • 8 oz. ground lamb or beef (1/2 pound)
  • 1 onion, grated
  • 1 tomato, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • Pinch of allspice
  • S&P
  • 1 lb ready-made pastry dough
  • 1 egg, beaten (for glaze)
  • Tzatziki sauce for serving (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and toast until golden. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the lamb, onion, tomato, garlic, parsley, cinnamon, allspice, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Set aside.

Roll out the dough to about ¼ inch thick. Cut the dough into long strips about 2 inches wide, then across to make squares. Cover the dough while you make the boats.

Brush egg glaze down two opposite sides of the square. Add small amount of lamb filling to the middle of each square. Fold in half with the glazed edges together, leaving an opening in the center. Press the boat gently against your work surface so the boat sits flat, and pinch the ends together forcing up the filling.

Put the boats on a baking sheet lined with parchment, and bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown and meat is cooked through.

Serve immediately.

*any leftover boats can be frozen once cooled completely.
Lamb Boats
Lamb Boats

Buffalo Quinoa Bites

It’s fall, my favourite season. There are so many reasons to love the fall…cool, crisp air, warm sweaters, cozy fires, and of course, the fall colours. Then there’s the food. After months of grilling meats, tossing salads, picnic lunches, and sunny dinners on the deck, it’s time to switch gears and enjoy dishes and flavours that warm the soul and celebrate the season.

vegetarian quinoa buffalo bites
Buffalo Quinoa Bites

After a summer of indulgence, my daughter recently decided to become a pescatarian. She spent one year as a vegetarian in the past, but found the diet challenging and gave it up at the beginning of the summer. Now, with steak season come and gone, she’s decided to clean her diet up once again, this time allowing herself fish and seafood to help keep enough protein in her diet (made more of a challenge during the school year given schools here don’t allow peanut or other nut products in school lunches). Her only reservation was having to give up some of her favourite foods, especially her Friday night favourite, Buffalo wings. Or so she thought.

One of her favourite Buffalo recipes are Buffalo chicken quinoa bites. There are a lot of different versions of the same recipe out there (you can search the internet for them), but all of these little flavour bundles are packed with quinoa, chicken, and cheese. Serve them with a little Ranch dip on the side, and they are a great substitution for Buffalo wings. Thankfully, with a few changes, I was able to make a vegetarian version that would pack a good protein punch for my daughters school lunches, while still giving her the Buffalo wing flavour she craves.

vegetarian quinoa buffalo bites
Buffalo Quinoa Bites

Using the inspiration of the typical carrot and celery stick side dish for restaurant wings, I substituted grated carrot for the standard shredded chicken. I also switched out the bread crumbs for quinoa flakes in an effort to add put more protein to the recipe, and served the bites with a yogurt Ranch dip. Success! And a very tasty one at that. At least this is one dish my daugther won’t have to sacrifice in order to stick to her new diet/lifestyle.


makes 12 bites


1 cup cooked quinoa

1 egg

1/4 cup onion, finely chopped

1 large carrot, shredded (about 1/2 cup)

1/4 cup Frank’s Buffalo wing sauce

1/2 cup Mozzarella, shredded

1/2 cup quinoa flakes

1/4 tsp garlic powder

S&P to taste


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and mix well.

Divide mixture evenly into well-greased mini muffin pan. Be sure to fill each cup completely and press the mixture down to compact (this will help hold them together and make removing them from the pan easier).

Bake 25 minutes. Allow to cool 5 minutes before removing from pan.

Serve with your favourite Ranch dressing or dip.

Homemade Hot Chocolate

The next few weeks will bring Santa Claus parades, tree-lighting celebrations, and plenty of cold, blustery nights. One of our favourite ways to warm up on these cold occasions is with a warm mug of hot chocolate.

Hot Chocolate Bar
Hot Chocolate Bar

On parade day (it’s actually parade night in our town), my girls know that I’ll have a hot chocolate bar set up and ready to go when we all return home, shivering from the cold. It takes little time to set up, yet it adds so much to the fun and festivity.


Marshmallows, candy canes, chocolate chips, caramels, whipped cream, sprinkles, chocolate covered spoons…the topping options are endless. Get creative with your toppings! While I put out marshmallows, I also added a few dipped in chocolate, and then dipped a few of those in holiday sprinkles. Easy and delicious!


Without question, there are many instant hot chocolate mixes on store shelves these days, but the best hot chocolate is the kind you make from scratch. It’s even better when it can be made in advance and left in a crockpot so it’s ready and waiting when you come in from the cold. This recipe is perfect for just that.

So the next time someone in your house says “Can I have a hot chocolate, please?” consider throwing together a hot chocolate bar and making an occasion of it.


 (makes about 10 cups)
¾ cup sugar
1 cup cocoa
1 cup chopped chocolate
1 cup hot water
8 cups milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon

 In a medium saucepan over med/low heat, add sugar, cocoa, chocolate, and hot water.

Whisk well until the chocolate has melted. Add the milk, vanilla, and cinnamon. Whisk to combine and heat through.

Pour the cocoa into your crockpot and leave on low or the Keep Warm setting if you have one. Enjoy when you’re ready, garnished with your favourite toppings.

Homemade Hot Chocolate
Homemade Hot Chocolate
*you can easily half this recipe for a smaller group



Spiced Meringues

“The ornaments of your house will be the guests who frequent it’.


Spiced Meringues
Spiced Meringues

One of the reasons I love the holiday season so much is the time we get to spend with family and friends creating new memories. In our house, we love nothing more than to open our doors and welcome guests for quality time spent gathered around platters of good food and drink: appetizers, beverages, and desserts of all kinds.

This weekend was no exception. Looking for an excuse to try some new recipes, I decked the halls, set the table with lanterns, ornaments, and candles in all the holiday colours, and once again opened the doors of our home to friends.

One of the many sweets on the table that delivered big flavour for little effort, were these Spiced Meringues. These crunchy, melt-in-your-mouth clouds are made with a spicy trio of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, and are then dipped in dark chocolate. The flavour combination is pure Heaven as they melt in your mouth.

Party photos 21

They were a big hit with everyone and will no doubt be a regular guest at our future holiday celebrations.


2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp white vinegar
1/2 tsp water
1 pinch ground cinnamon
1 pinch ground ginger
1 pinch ground nutmeg
4 egg whites, room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 oz dark chocolate, melted


Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, combine the cream of tartar, vinegar, water, and spices. Set aside.

In a glass or metal bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in the spice mixture.

Transfer the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip.  Pipe the meringues onto the baking sheets. Place in the oven for 3 hours or until the meringues are completely dried and peel easily off the parchment paper. Cool completely on the baking sheets.

Dip the bottom of the meringues into the chocolate. Place back on the baking sheets to allow the chocolate to set.

These will keep in an airtight container in a cool dry place, up to 3 weeks.

This recipe has been adapted from the recipe for Spiced Dried Meringues in the holiday edition of Ricardo magazine.



Butter Tarts and the Sweetest Showdown of the Year

This past weekend, my family and I ventured out to take in the sites and smells at the second annual Midland Butter Tart Festival which took place up and down King Street, Midland, Ontario. Everyone in our family loves butter tarts. What’s not to love?! Buttery crust filled with a sweet, gooey filling. A true Canadian delight that everyone’s grandmother has made.

Maple Butter Tarts
Homemade gluten free maple butter tarts, Chef at Heart.

Thankfully, we arrived early because many of the vendors were sold out in the early hours of the day, unbelievable given some of them had taken upwards of 70 to 100 dozen tarts to sell. There were butter tarts EVERYWHERE! More than 50,000 tarts in total from vendors that lined both sides of King Street. Whatever your pleasure, the festival had the tart of your dreams: with raisins or without, with walnuts or pecans, gluten-free tarts, chocolate butter tarts, and so many more!

Midland Butter Tart Festival 3
Sampling butter tarts during the judging of the professional category.

The tarts were being judged in two categories: professional and homemade. We were lucky enough to attend some of the professional judging in the morning and were able to sample a few of the entries and we knew right then that we weren’t going home empty-handed.

Once back out on the street, we purchased tarts from a couple of the top vendors from last year’s competition: ones with walnuts, and some plain/traditional. Naturally, this meant having our own Father’s Day taste-off and the tarts we brought home were put up against my own gluten-free maple version. I’m happy to say, my tart won for overall appearance and even received one vote for best tart overall (no, that doesn’t include my vote, lol). Pretty good for putting a gluten-free version up against two other ‘normal’ award winning tarts made by professionals.

I have no doubt there will be a third annual Midland Butter Tart Festival and I highly recommend you check it out. Early!

Maple Butter Tarts
Chef at Heart Maple Butter Tarts

Maple Butter Tarts (gluten-free)

This is my own recipe for a gluten-free butter tart that will have even gluten-eaters coming back for seconds and thirds. This maple version uses 100% maple syrup in place of corn syrup.

For the pastry:

1/3 cup water, ice-cold

2 tsp cider vinegar

2 egg yolks

1 cup brown rice flour

1 & 1/2 cups tapioca starch

2 tsp guar gum

1/4 tsp sea salt

1 cup butter, cut into chunks

For the filling:

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

1/3 cup butter, melted

2 eggs

1 tbsp white vinegar

pinch sea salt

raisins (optional) – soak raisins in warm water for a few minutes to soften if desired


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a small bowl, combine water, vinegar, and egg yolks.

In a food processor, pulse the rice flour, tapioca starch, guar gum, and salt to combine.

Add the chunks of butter and pulse until butter is coated in flour and resembles small peas.

While the food processor is running, slowly add the water mixture just until the ingredients come together. Do not over mix.

Remove the dough from the processor and place on a sheet of waxed or parchment paper coated with a light dusting of tapioca starch. Knead to form into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, syrup, eggs, vinegar and salt. Slowly add the melted butter and mix well. Set aside until pastry is ready.

Roll out pastry on dusted surface and form into rounds for tart/muffin pan. If using raisins, place a few raisins in the bottom of each tart shell. Pour maple filling into unbaked shells, filling two-thirds full. Bake at 375 F until filling is set, about 20 minutes (decrease baking time a few minutes if you prefer a runny filling over a firm one).

Cool in the pan for a few minutes before removing to a cooling rack.





Chicken Satays with Thai Peanut Sauce

After a week of rain, we are finally seeing the sun and some beautiful weather, and that brings up thoughts of lighter, fresher foods, and meals cooked on the grill. Every spring and summer our diets undergo a change. Fresh local produce begins to flood the market, meals are cooked and eaten outdoors, and we want to spend more time outside than in the kitchen so things need to come together quickly.

Chicken Satays with Thai Peanut Sauce
Chicken Satays with Thai Peanut Sauce

Yesterday was one of those days: busy, beautiful weather, kids playing outside after school, and not wanting to spend a great deal of time preparing dinner. Fortunately, I have one or two ‘go-to’ easy recipes that are perfect for these types of days, and so yesterdays dinner was chicken satays with a no-cook Thai peanut sauce. By taking just 20 minutes in the morning to put chicken in a marinade, you can fire up the grill and have an easy, tasty dinner on the table in under 30 minutes at the end of the day.


4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

2 tbsp peanut butter

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

2 tbsp tamari sauce

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp olive oil

Cut chicken into large chunks or into long, thin strips (your preference). Place in a large Ziploc bag and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the remaining ingredients and combine. Pour this over the chicken and massage the bag to make sure each piece of chicken is coated with the marinade. Place in the fridge for several hours or as long as overnight.

Note: If you are using wooden skewers, be sure to soak them in water for a few hours before grilling.

When you are ready to cook the chicken, thread the chicken onto the skewers and discard any remaining marinade. Preheat the grill to med-high. Cook the satays on the grill until cooked through, about 3-4 minutes per side.

Chicken Satays
Chicken Satays

Arrange the satays on a plate or platter and serve with Thai peanut sauce (recipe below). I served ours last night on a bed of quinoa and broccoli but these are great alone as an appetizer with the sauce served on the side, or on a bed of rice.

Thai Peanut Dressing

While I use a few different variations on a basic Thai peanut sauce recipe that I’ve used for years, all of them are cooked sauces. Last night I wanted to try something else and found this one from Our Best Bites. It’s a fantastic no-cook sauce that comes together quickly in a blender or food processor that can be used for salads or as a vegetable dip. I made it 2 hours in advance so the flavours had time to develop and it was a big hit with everyone at the table, young and old.











Apple Crisp (gluten-free)

As the snow flies once again for what we can only hope is the last time this season, I find myself dreaming of warm comfort food. Specifically, I’m picturing a warm dish of apple crisp with a dollop of vanilla ice cream melting over the top of it, creating a sweet sticky sauce in the bottom of the bowl.

Apple Crisp
Apple Crisp

One of the very first gluten-free recipes I created was apple crisp. It took a number of attempts to get the combination just right, but now I have it perfected to the point that my little family will ask for my apple crisp rather than a ‘regular’ (gluten version) apple crisp, and if we serve it to company, they never guess that it’s gluten-free. Unlike most traditional recipes for crisp, my recipe has the apples sandwiched between layers of crisp with a beautiful crust on the bottom, and a light sprinkling of the cinnamon oat goodness on top. After all, you can never have enough crisp!

So if you’re looking for a sweet bowl of comfort food for dessert tonight, try some apple crisp (ice cream optional, but highly recommended). I’ve also included a version for gluten-free blueberry crisp.


Apple Crisp (gluten-free)
Apple Crisp (gluten-free)

APPLE CRISP (gluten-free)

½ cup brown rice flour

¼ cup tapioca starch

¼ cup potato starch (not flour)

1 cup gluten-free oats

½ tsp cinnamon

1 cup brown sugar

1 tbsp gluten-free baking powder

½ cup butter

5 large apples (I use MacIntosh)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a large pie plate or 8-inch square baking dish.

In a large bowl, mix together rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, oats, cinnamon, sugar, and baking powder. Cut butter into the dry mixture until well combined. Set aside.

Peel and core the apples. Cut into ½ inch slices.

Spread half of the oatmeal mixture into the pie plate, and pat it down with fingers to form a crust. Top with the apples and cover lightly with the remaining oatmeal mixture. Bake 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve warm with ice cream.

*for blueberry crisp: add 1/2 tsp ground ginger to the dry ingredients and replace apples with about 4 cups of blueberries (add more if desired).

Blueberry Crisp (gluten-free)
Blueberry Crisp (gluten-free)